A classic drug could become our cheapest and safest new cancer drug.

When you think of drugs used to treat cancer, you often think of drugs that are expensive that attack not only the cancer cells but also your own cells. They often cause severe side effects and aren’t always effective. There is a class of very common and relatively inexpensive drugs, however, that are showing promise in their ability to treat tumor cells.


Bisphosphonates are a very common class of drug that are often prescribed to treat osteoporosis. They work by inhibiting osteoclasts that break down bone into minerals to be used by the body. Another property of bisphosphonates that is being investigated is their effect on tumor cells. They have shown evidence to work against tumor cells in five different ways. They can trigger tumor cells to undergo apoptosis, inhibit tumor cell adhesion, and prevent tumor angiogenesis or blood vessel development. In addition to these direct effects on tumor cells, bisphosphonates can help the body better defend against the tumor cells by inhibiting macrophages produced by the tumor as well as activating a certain class of cytotoxic T-cells. Lastly, bisphosphonates exhibit a synergistic relationship with a number of anti-tumor drugs, providing an opportunity for them to be added to cancer patients’ existing medication regimens.


These properties of bisphosphonates are exciting and worth devoting more time and money into researching them. A cheap, and safe drug that can be used to treat cancer could be a potential breakthrough in the complex and expensive field of oncology. With more research, we could very well see bisphosphonates as a part of every cancer patient’s medication regimen.


Acker, H. H., Anguille, S., Willemen, Y., Smits, E. L., & Tendeloo, V. F. (2016). Bisphosphonates for cancer treatment: Mechanisms of action and lessons from clinical trials. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 158, 24-40.